Tag Archives: goat shelter

Building a Hay Rack

Fancy, Ebony, and Ivory are thrilled with their new hayrack.

Well, I’m still on “light duty” from my appendectomy.  I’m not supposed to do anything real strenuous yet and since all the things I had planned for this winter were “heavy duty” moving or building I decided to make providing for our goats a little easier on us and a lot less wasteful of hay.  Winter feeding of hay is the number one operating expense in most livestock operations, so we want to minimize the amount of hay we have to feed and utilize the hay we feed as efficiently as possible through good management and decision making.

In the future we hope to be able to graze our ruminants year round without supplemental hay except in the worst years but we have to get our pastures into much better shape before that can happen.  So this year we will have to feed hay to supplement the browsing and grazing of the goats.  I thought we were going to be able to make it until January before we had to feed any hay, but we’ve had such a cold snap here lately that the grass is fading fast.  The temps here have been in the teens this week – no higher than 28°F on any day – and have been in the single digits at night.  So basically we had to start feeding some hay.

Since we’re new at all this we started by placing a hay bale on top of a dog house thinking that LGD Maggie Mae could get some shelter and the hay would stay up off the ground.  That strategy worked for somewhere between three and five minutes.  After that time, the goats had knocked over the doghouse, spread the hay all over the ground, and they and Maggie had made little nests in the hay in which to sleep.  Seeing all of the goats and Maggie sleeping in their nests was very cut, but hay is expensive, and that was going to waste a lot of it.

From the couple of days I spent carrying hay out to the goats I could tell doing that every morning was going to get really old really quickly, so I started thinking about making a portable hay rack.  Lots of companies make hay racks, but I was unable to find one that was designed to be moved around pastures with the animals.  Most people either bring large round bales to central feeding points for non-rotationally-grazed animals or they bring their animals into a hayshed in the winter and feed them there.  We’ll probably opt for the latter strategy eventually, but we need to build a hayshed and small stockyard first.  That way we can store the manure in one place through the winter when the pastures can’t absorb the fertilizer and spread it in the spring when it can be utilized.  But for now we have no hayshed and no stockyard, so we needed another solution.

As I said, I couldn’t find any portable hay racks to model one after, so I tried to think of the solution that would be easiest for us.

I decided that attaching a hay rack to the goats’ portable shelter would be the easiest thing for us to do since doing it that way would create no extra work in moving it.  We already move the shelter with the goats anyway – a task that has gotten much easier thanks to my dad, who put wheels on the goat shelter while I was in the hospital.  Now that thing pulls so easily!  That used to be the worst part of moving the goats, but no more!

Anyway, I attached a remnant 4′ x 4′ piece of plywood to one side of the shelter and then angled two old garden trellises that I found into the bottom of the plywood and through the bottom frame of the goat shelter.  Then I attached a wire to the top frame of the goat shelter, wove it through the trellis for added support, and attached the wire to the top frame of the shelter on the other side of the plywood.  See the video below for a visual.

As you can see, this is a perfectly functional poor-man’s hay rack that moves right along with the goat shelter from paddock to paddock.  I used stuff we had lying around, but if you want to copy this it would only cost you about $22.  A full piece of plywood runs about $8 at Lowe’s and I saw similar trellises at Wal-Mart for $6.97 each.  You’d even have a half sheet of plywood left over at that price.

Hopefully the goats will be kind to it and not break it to pieces, but I think the worst they could do it bend the wire on the trellises.  That shouldn’t be too hard to fix if it becomes necessary.

After 24 hours, the hayrack has seemed very successful at keeping the hay off of the ground and at giving the goats access to the hay.

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Sgt. Pepper

Sgt. Pepper rides home in Lindsey's lap in the truck.

This cute little fluffball is Sgt. Pepper, Good Life Ranch’s newest livestock guardian dog (LGD).  Lindsey’s parents, Ronnie and Jake, had given us some money to buy some young LGD pups for Christmas.  This is pup #1!

No, Maggie is not being replaced.  She is doing a tremendous job!  But she is between 7 and 8 years old and it takes 18-24 months to get a LGD trained and working at full capacity. So now is the time to start training a replacement if we want Maggie to be able to retire before she hits double digits in age.  We wanted to get 2 young puppies (a male and female so that we won’t have to buy a LGD again, as well as hopefully make a little bit of money to pay for their food eventually) and allow Maggie to train them how to be good guardians.  Then, once the younger generation is trustworthy and working at full capacity, Maggie will be able to retire to a smaller area with some geese or pygmy goats or something.

We got Sgt. Pepper from a family near Campbellsville.  The parents of the litter of 9 puppies were on the premises and were guarding a small flock of goats in addition to raising their litter of puppies.  The parents were alert but very friendly, even with strangers.  There were 4 puppies still there – 2 males and 2 females.  We chose the puppy that seemed the most confident and willing to explore the paddock.  He was also a little bit bigger than the others, but that was not as important to us as his personality and self-confidence.  Right now he weighs around 12 pounds and will be 9 weeks old tomorrow.

On the way home we decided that we would call him Sgt. Pepper.  Lindsey also wants a llama named General Fierceness, so apparently she is a fan of military ranks.  The Beatles theme for our LGDs could be fun – Sgt. Pepper and Maggie Mae could have friends named JoJo, Jude, Desmond, Eleanor, Michelle, Maxwell, Mr. Kite, Paperback Writer, Prudence, Lucy, Lady Madonna, Rocky, John, and Yoko.  I’m also pretty sure I’ve missed many of the names in their more obscure songs, but you get the idea!

We also stopped off at one of our Amish neighbor’s and got a well-made doghouse so that Sgt. Pepper could get away from the goats if they try to play too rough while he’s still little.  Before we move the goats next I’ll put some wheels and handles on the doghouse so we can move it around the pasture with the goat shelter and Sgt. Pepper and Maggie will have a place of their own that the goats can’t enter.  We also learned that his parents live just half an hour or so away from my parents in Arkansas.  Small world!

Here are some shots of Sgt. Pepper’s first day at Good Life Ranch.

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Once we got back home, we put some straw in the doghouse so that Sgt. Pepper could make himself a little nest.  Then we put him inside the doghouse and put it inside the next goat paddock.  We then proceeded to build the goat paddock around the doghouse with him in it.  Our thought was that the goats are usually distracted by the fresh grass for a while after a paddock shift and would therefore notice the puppy one at a time over a period of time rather than him being the only new thing in their world.  For the most part, it worked.

After building the new paddock and moving Maggie and the goats into it, we took care that Sgt. Pepper and Maggie had a good first meeting.  Maggie sniffed the entrance of the doghouse and then went around the paddock doing her usual marking and scraping to define her territory.  Coyotes beware!  After she finished that, we took Sgt. Pepper out of his house and let them introduce themselves.  Maggie sniffed him a little but was far more interested in getting attention from us.  Sgt. Pepper followed her around a little and explored the paddock on his own a little.  I took him across the paddock to make sure he could find his way back to his doghouse, and he was successful!  He only needed a little break in the goat shelter at the halfway point.

The only negative was the boss goat, Miss Priss.  She head-butts all the other goats all the time, and she did that with Sgt. Pepper once, too.  He squealed but wasn’t hurt.  I was also encouraged that he didn’t run away from her after that either.  We’ll just have to keep an eye on that situation over the next couple days.  Sgt. Pepper has the doghouse he can retreat too, but if Priss doesn’t leave him be then we’ll put Sgt. Pepper in a smaller area with just Nadine and Roja so he can bond to goats without any danger of getting head-butted.

All in all, Sgt. Pepper had a big day.  He got his shots and de-wormer, had a nice truck ride in Lindsey’s lap, threw up a little from car sickness (luckily not in Lindsey’s lap), got a new house, pooped in the bed of the truck, met Maggie the mentor, stood up to Priss the goat, and fell sound asleep in the house before dark.

He’s very cute!

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Sunday on the Ranch

The garden has exploded with yellow late-summer flowers.

One of the best things about working outside on the ranch every day is getting to see things change.  New plants, birds, and fish show up all the time.  For instance, the flower garden has exploded with coreopsis.  Yellow everywhere!  This garden has progressed from lilies to hollyhocks to coreopsis in the 2.5 months since we’ve been here.  I’m looking forward to seeing the fall colors change on the trees in another few weeks and the reemergence of flowers and leaves in the spring.  Fall is coming – 45 degrees here last night.

Despite the falling temps, we decided to go ahead and put the 2-week-old chicks out in their chicken scooters yesterday.  It’s been in the low 90’s here for the last few weeks, but yesterday was a beautiful 75-degree day and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get the birds out on grass.  Lindsey and I loaded up each scooter with 25 chicks and watched the Buff Orpingtons run around exploring their new environment.  Then we watched the Cornish X chicks lay down next to the feeder as soon as we put them in the scooter, showing little interest in the grass or bugs all around them.  They definitely hung out in the shade underneath the tarp section of their scooter all day.  Their strategy of laying down with their head in the feeder definitely produces a heavier bird, however.  We weighed a couple of birds as we put them into the tractor – Buff Orpington chick 7 ounces, Cornish X chick 17 ounces after 2 weeks.  Damn!

The little Buff Orpington chicks explore their new digs inside the scooter.

The Buff Orps are always moving!

The Cornish X chicks prefer to sit in the shade as close to the feeder as possible rather than explore their surroundings.

The goats have names now.  As I mentioned before these are the first does in our as-of-now-rather-small breeding herd, so they are safe to name because we won’t be eating these.  We rather unimaginatively named the red doe Roja.  Maybe we miss speaking the little bit of Spanish we used to in San Antonio.  My brother Scott suggested Nadine for the little white doeling after Nadine Gordimer (the South African Nobel laureate author) since Boer goats were originally developed in South Africa.  Nadine also wrote about social justice, which is one of the reasons we’re doing this whole endeavor in the first place.

The goats are getting more used to us.  Roja is very inquisitive.  She always comes over to investigate whatever we’re doing when we’re in the paddock with them.  She stops short of allowing us to touch her yet, but she’s getting there.  Nadine, being smaller, is much more cautious.  She is beginning to approach us, but always keeps Roja’s body between her and us.  She is also much quicker to run away if we moved suddenly or do something really scary like stand up.  They both spend a lot of time grazing and browsing, which is ultimately how we want them to get all of their nutrients.  They had access to both grass and pelleted feed at Triple Holler, so right now I’m offering them pellets every other day in an effort to wean them onto grass and browse only without forcing them to go cold turkey.  They seem to be adjusting well, but they really like the pellets.

The goats are very inquisitive and are coming closer and closer every day. Soon we'll be able to play and romp!

They have also discovered the mineral block (like goat vitamins) in their area and seem to like it.  Roja especially goes to town on it.  Nadine nibbles it a little every now and then.  They have also figured out how much fun it is to climb on top of the dog crates I haven’t taken out of the yard yet.

Roja has discovered the mineral block.

Roja likes to take in the view from the top of the dog crate.

Roja munches on the grass in the backyard "paddock."

I also knocked together a very rudimentary shelter for the goats – just something to allow them to get out of the sun or rain if they wanted to.  I used old 2x6s vertically on the bottom for skids and cross-braced them with other scrap wood.  Then I drilled holes in the 2x6s and put short sections of rebar sticking up from the holes.  I then bent PVC pipes from one side to the other to form a hoop structure.  Then zip ties connect the tarp to the PVC frame.  Voìla!  Lightweight portable goat shelter!

The new portable goat shelter we whipped up with skids, rebar, PVC, and a tarp. Nothing new was bought except the tarp.

Other animals are finally proving useful as well.  The turkeys have learned that there are bugs in the gardens and now patrol the 2 raised beds and the tomato patch every few hours looking for tasty morsels.  While they’re up around the house they also like to perch on the trailer, the pickup’s tailgate, and the swing on the porch.  It’s pretty funny.  I’ll try to post a picture of them on the swing if I can catch them doing it.

The turkeys have finally discovered that there are usually bugs and slugs in the garden. If only they'd found 'em before the squash bug epidemic!

This week our neighbor David and I (25% him and 75% me by time, 75% him and 25% me by amount of grass cut) got the front pasture mowed.  David has the large advantage of tractor ownership.  I have the disadvantage of walk-behind bush hog ownership.  Hence the time/productivity disparity.  Oh well.  At least I don’t have to fill out an embarrassing TPS report about it.  The grass started out 3 feet high all over the place and over my head in others.  It’s now a pretty uniform 3 inches and round bales of hay dot the pasture.

The tall grass in the front pasture before David and I cut it. The grass was 3 feet high everywhere and 6 feet high in places.

The pasture looks much better now! David also ended up with 45-50 bales of hay for his dairy as well.

After cutting, David baled the hay in the front field.

The huge plus of this cutting is that the front of the property now looks as if someone lives here!  Additionally, the grass is now free of competition from taller woody weeds and should be able to put on a burst of growth here in the fall growing season.  The bad news is that now I can see how little humus and organic matter we have in the soil.  The soil is just bare between the crowns of grass plants.  We’ve got a lot of soil building to do here!  Prescription:  rotational grazing with ruminant animals.  Before we can do that, I’ve gotta put in a fence.  Anyone want to come help?  🙂

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